Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart
When Clayton had returned from Washington, one of the first problems put up to him had been Herman Klein's application to be taken on again. He found Hutchinson in favor of it.
"He doesn't say much," he said. "Never did. But I gather things are changed, now we are in the war ourselves."
"I suppose we need him."
"You bet we need him."
For the problem of skilled labor was already a grave one.
Clayton was doubtful. If he could have conferred with Dunbar he wouid have felt more comfortable, but Dunbar was away on some mysterious errand connected with the Military Intelligence Department. He sat considering, tapping on his desk with the handle of his pen. Of course things were different now. A good many Germans whose sympathies had, as between the Fatherland and the Allies, been with Germany, were now driven to a decision between the land they had left and the land they had adopted. And behind Herman there were thirty years of good record.
"Where is the daughter?"
"I don't know. She left some weeks ago. It's talk around the plant that he beat her up, and she got out. Those Germans don't know the first thing about how to treat women."
"Then she is not in Weaver's office?"
There was more talk in the offices than Hutchinson repeated. Graham's fondness for Anna, her slavish devotion to him, had been pretty well recognized. He wondered if Clayton knew anything about it, or the further gossip that Graham knew where Anna Klein had been hiding.
"What about Rudolph Klein? He was a nephew, wasn't he?"
"Fired," said Hutchinson laconically. "Got to spreading the brotherhood of the world idea - sweat brothers, he calls them. But he was mighty careful never to get in a perspiration himself."
"We might try Herman again. But I'd keep an eye on him."
So Herman was taken on at the new munition plant. He was a citizen, he owned property, he had a record of long service behind him. And, at first, he was minded to preserve that record intact. While he had by now added to his rage against the Fatherland's enemies a vast and sullen fury against invested capital, his German caution still remained.
He would sit through fiery denunciations of wealth, nodding his head slowly in agreement. He was perfectly aware that in Gus's little back room dark plots were hatched. Indeed, on a certain April night Rudolph had come up and called him onto the porch.
"In about fifteen minutes," he said, consulting his watch in the doorway, "I'm going to show you something pretty."
And in fifteen minutes to the dot the great railroad warehouses near the city wharf had burst into flames. Herman had watched without comment, while Rudolph talked incessantly, boasting of his share in the enterprise.
"About a million dollars' worth of fireworks there," he said, as the glare dyed their faces red. "All stuff for the Allies." And he boasted, "When the cat sits on the pickhandle, brass buttons must go."
By that time Herman knew that the "cat" meant sabotage. He had nodded slowly.
"But it is dangerous," was his later comment. "Sometimes they will learn, and then?"
His caution had exasperated Rudolph almost to frenzy. And as time went on, and one man after another of the organization was ferreted out at the new plant and dismissed, the sole remaining hope of the organization was Herman. With his reinstatement their hopes had risen again, but to every suggestion so far he had been deaf. He would listen approvingly, but at the end, when he found the talk veering his way, and a circle of intent faces watching him, he would say:
"It is too dangerous. And it is a young man's work. I am not young."
Then he would pay his score, but never by any chance Rudolph's or the others, and go home to his empty house. But recently the plant had gone on double turn, and Herman was soon to go on at night. Here was the gang's opportunity. Everything was ready but Herman himself. He continued interested, but impersonal. For the sake of the Fatherland he was willing to have the plant go, and to lose his work. He was not at all daunted by the thought of the deaths that would follow. That was war. Anything that killed and destroyed was fair in war. But he did not care to place himself in danger. Let those young hot-heads do the work.
Rudolph, watching him, bided his time. The ground was plowed and harrowed, ready for the seed, and Rudolph had only to find the seed.
The night he had carried Anna into the cottage on the hill, he had found it.
Herman had not beaten Anna. Rudolph had carried her up to her bed, and Herman, following slowly, strap in hand, had been confronted by the younger man in the deorway of the room where Anna lay, conscious but unmoving, on the bed.
"You can use that thing later," Rudolph said. "She's sick now. Better let her alone."
"I will teach her to run away," Herman muttered thickly. "She left me, her father, and threw away a good job - I - "
"You come down-stairs. I've something to say to you."
And, after a time, Herman had followed him down, but he still clung doggedly to the strap.
Rudolph led the way outside, and here in the darkness he told Anna's story, twisted and distorted through his own warped mind, but convincing and partially true. Herman's silence began to alarm him, however, and when at last he rose and made for the door, Rudolph was before him.
"What are you going to do?"
Herman said nothing, but he raised the strap and held it menacingly.
"Get out of my way."
"Don't be a fool," Rudolph entreated. "You can beat her to death, and what do you get out of it? She'll run away again if you touch her. Put that strap down. I'm not afraid of you."
Their voices, raised and angry, penetrated through Anna's haze of fright and faintness. She sat up in the bed, ready to spring to the window if she heard steps on the stairs. When none came, but the voices, lowered now, went on endlessly below, she slipped out of her bed and crept to the doorway.
Sounds traveled clearly up the narrow enclosed stairway. She stood there, swaying slightly, until at last her legs would no longer support her. She crouched on the floor, a hand clutching her throat, lest she scream. And listened.
She did not sleep at all. The night had been too full of horrors. And she was too ill to attempt a second flight. Besides, where could she go? Katie was not there. She could see ber empty little room across, with its cot bed and tawdry dresser. Before, too, she had had Grahams protection to count on. Now she had nothing.
And the voices went on.
When she went back to bed it was almost dawn. She heard Herman come up, heard the heavy thump of his shoes on the floor, and the creak immediately following that showed he had lain down without undressing. By the absence of his resonant snoring she knew he was not sleeping, either. She pictured him lying there, his eyes on the door, in almost unwinking espionage.
At half past six she got up and went down-stairs. Almost immediately she heard his stockinged feet behind her. She turned and looked up at him.
"What are you going to do?"
"Going to make myself some coffee."
He came down, and sat down in the sitting-room. From where he sat he could survey the kitchen, and she knew his eyes were on her. His very quiet terrified her, but although the strap lay on the table he made no move toward it. She built a fire and put on the kettle, and after a time she brought him some coffee and some bread. He took it without a word, Sick as she was, she fell to cleaning up the dirty kitchen. She went outside for a pail, to find him behind her in the doorway. Then she knew what he intended to do. He was afraid, for some reason, to beat her again, but he was going to watch her lest again she make her escape. The silence, under his heavy gaze, was intolerable.
All day she worked, and only once did Herman lose sight of her. That was when he took a ladder, and outside the house nailed all the upper windows shut. He did it with German thoroughness, hammering deliberately, placing his nails carefully. After that he went to the corner grocery, but before he went he spoke the first words of the day.
"You will go to your room."
She went, and he locked her in. She knew then that she was a prisoner. When he was at the mill at night, while he slept during the day, she was to be locked up in her stuffy, airless room. When he was about she would do the housework, always under his silent, contemptuous gaze.
She made one appeal to him, and only one, and that was to his cupidity.
"I've been sick, but I'm able to work now, father."
He paid no attention to her.
"If you lock me up and don't let me work," she persisted, "you'll only be cutting off your nose to spite your face. I make good money, and you know it."
She thought he was going to speak then, but he did not. She put his food on the table and he ate gluttonously, as he always did. She did not sit down. She drank a little coffee, standing at the stove, and watched the back of his head with hate in her eyes. He could eat like that, when he stood committed to a terrible thing!
It was not until late in the day that it began to dawn on her how she was responsible. She was getting stronger then and more able to think. She followed as best she could the events of the last months, and she saw that, as surely as though a malevolent power had arranged it, the thing was the result of her infatuation for raham.
She was in despair, and she began to plan how to get word to Graham of what was impending. She scrawled a note to Graham, telling him where she was and to try to get in touch with her somehow. If he would come around four o'clock Herman was generally up and off to the grocer's, or to Gus's saloon for his afternoon beer.
"I'll break a window and talk to you," she wrote. "I'm locked in when he's out. My window is on the north side. Don't lose any time. There's something terrible going to happen."
But several days went by and the postman did not appear. Herman had put a padlock on the outside of her bedroom door, and her hope of finding a second key to fit the door-lock died then.
It had become a silent, bitter contest between the two of them, with two advantages in favor of the girl. She was more intelligent than Herman, and she knew the thing he was planning to do. She made a careful survey of her room, and she saw that with a screw-driver she could unfasten the hinge of her bedroom door. Herman, however, always kept his tools locked up. She managed, apparently by accident, to break the point off a knife, and when she went up to her room one afternoon to be locked in while Herman went to Gus's saloon, she carried the knife in her stocking.
It was a sorry tool, however. Driven by her shaking hand, there was a time when she almost despaired. And time was flying. The postman, when he came, came at five, and she heard the kitchen clock strike five before the first screw fell out into her hand. She got them all out finally, and the door hung crazily, held only by the padlock. She ran to the window. The postman was coming along the street, and she hammered madly at the glass. When he saw her he turned in at the gate, and she got her letter and ran down the stairs.
She heard his step on the porch outside, and called to him.
"Is that you, Briggs?"
The postman was "Briggs" to the hill.
"If I slide a letter out under the door, will you take it to the post-office for me? It's important."
"All right. Slide."
She had put it partially under the door when a doubt crept into her mind. That was not Bniggs's voice. She made a frantic effort to draw the letter back, but stronger fingers than hers had it beyond the door. She clutched, held tight. Then she heard a chuckle, and found herself with a corner of tbe envelope in her hand.
There were voices outside, Briggs's and Rudolph's.
"Guess that's for me."
"Like hell it is."
She ran madly up the stairs again, and tried with shaking fingers to screw the door-hinges into place again. She fully expected that they would kill her. She heard Briggs go out, and after a time she heard Rudolph trying to kick in the house door. Then, when the last screw was back in place, she heard Herman's heavy step outside, and Rudolph's voice, high, furious, and insistent.
Had Herman not been obsessed with the thing he was to do, he might have beaten her to death that night. But he did not. She remained in her room, without food or water. She had made up her mind to kill herself with the knife if they came up after her, but the only sounds she heard were of high voices, growing lower and more sinister.
After that, for days she was a prisoner. Herman moved his bed down-stairs and slept in the sitting-room, the five or six hours of day-light sleep which were all he required. And at night, while he was at the mill, Rudolph sat and dozed and kept watch below. Twice a day some meager provisions were left at the top of the stairs and her door was unlocked. She would creep out and get them, not because she was hungry, but because she meant to keep up her strength. Let their vigilance slip but once, and she meant to be ready.
She learned to interpret every sound below. There were times when the fumes from burning food came up the staircase and almost smothered her. And there were times, she fancied, when Herman weakened and Rudolph talked for hours, inciting and inflaming him again. She gathered, too, that Gus's place was under surveillance, and more than once in the middle of the night stealthy figures came in by the garden gate and conferred with Rudolph down-stairs. Then, one evening, in the dusk of the May twilight, she saw three of them come, one rather tall and military of figure, and one of them carried, very carefully, a cheap suitcase.
She knew what was in that suitcase.